Sunday, June 30, 2013

National 24-Hour Challenge

Here is more than you wanted to know about how Sam and I spent June 15 and 16.  Photo credits:  Sam.  (Sam has a knack for making the human subject of a photograph look, er, studlier than he really is, so take the pictures with a certain grain of salt.  Unless I look like a tool, in which case he went for realism in that shot.)

The Short Version

At the National 24-Hour Challenge, a draft-legal ultra-cycling race/ride (depending on your perspective) in central Michigan, Sam (crewing) and I (riding) knocked off nearly 310 miles in the between 20 and 22 hours that the course was open.  If one applies the 1.22 multiplier that we were encouraged to apply to our final mileage, we approached a 24-hour 600K.  [For perhaps obvious reasons that analysis is short-sighted.  The most obvious, in my case, is that I was lying on the floor and moaning long before the course was closed, suggesting I would not have continued riding had the course remained open.  My best guess is that the closure might have cost me 30 miles.]

The N24HC is a phenomenally run event with a friendly staff and dozens of selfless volunteers; a comfortable race HQ; an interesting and not overly challenging course; and a huge and varied field of entrants.  But for some bad pavement and hordes of wheel-suckers, I can think of nothing I would change.

The variables are too many to say this definitively, but I found the N24HC course to be harder than the Saratoga 12/24, my only other time-limited ultra-cycling event.  The most obvious problem with voicing this comparison is that in Saratoga I rode for 12 hours and last weekend I rode for the lion's share of 24!  Both events had oddly perfect weather -- temperatures in the 70s, overcast skies, just enough rain spitting to be enjoyable -- except for the storms last weekend, when I was not riding.  Both have fairly easy terrain:  The 2012 Saratoga course had two short moderately challenging climbs and 31.5 miles of flat or slightly downhill riding; The N24HC course has miles of rolling hills that one can ride without leaving the aero position.  (Summary:  the terrain is probably incommensurate, but neither is hard.)  The Saratoga event was repeated 32.5 mile loops, long enough to keep one's speed up but short enough to be psychologically manageable.  The N24HC has a first loop of 117.6 miles, which is a long ride in its own right, and night loops of 7.5 miles, which are psychologically easy but (1) encourage frequent resting, and (2) prevent one's finding a rhythm.

We went hard -- probably too hard -- for the first ~164 miles, or the long loop and two of the medium loops.  That pace put us well ahead of where we needed to be to finish 400 miles, but at that point a nutrition deficit became clear and although riding pace did not substantially diminish, breaks became frequent, longer, and increasingly pathetic.  After 249.9 miles we stopped for a long break with the plan of reaching a total of 300 miles after a morning start.  The course closure likely delayed that start (although who really knows) and in the final 3:35 we spooled off eight final short laps for 60 more miles.

Going hard.  Perhaps too hard.
The result was a tie for 42nd place, not counting tandems; third in the 35-39 age group; and a good start on a new goal of reaching 1000 total miles at this event over three not-necessarily-consecutive years.

We learned some lessons, too: 

(1) At this event, at least, the 400-mile strategy is to ride the long loop and five medium loops before beginning the short night loop.  That sets up a possible 401.1 mile finish (after 22 night loops).  Otherwise one must ride four medium and 26 night loops for 407.4 miles.  25 night loops after four day loops would produce a heart-breaking 399.9 miles!

(2) We should have used more solid food earlier.  Over this distance, Heed, Accelerade, and gel work as supplements but do not work as a diet strategy.  (I know, everybody has a contrary story.  But this is the lesson I draw.)   That approach is consistent with thoughtful advice from Allen Delaney at Rehab 2 Racing of taking more liquid nutrition at night to avert sleepiness.  A few burgers, sandwiches, or slices of pizza between noon and 10 p.m. might ensure enough calories and a quiet enough stomach to tolerate several night hours of primarily liquid simple carbohydrates and caffeine.

Solid food.  Should have had more.
(3) We should have seen the doldrums coming and injected a serious caffeine boost.  I would guess that a cup of coffee at 6 p.m., before heading out for the fourth medium loop, would have set up a much better late-evening of riding.

That insulated bottle is full of coffee.  No accident that the first loop went quickly!
And, (4) once it became clear that reaching the goal was going to require work, we should have had a clearer split of authority:  Sam (the crew) is the decision-maker and I (the rider) am the executer.  I have some confidence that Sam's preference would have been another 50 miles before calling it a night, which would have preserved the 400-mile option and at least made 350 miles very realistic.

Summary:  this event is highly recommended.  I, and I hope we, will be back.

The Long Version

Sam and I drove from Indianapolis to Middleville, Michigan, on Friday, June 14; checked in at race headquarters at the Thornapple Kellogg Middle School; and drove two of the loops of the National 24-Hour Challenge bike race before heading to our hotel.  We were back at the course by 6:45 on Saturday morning in plenty of time to park conveniently close to the start line and race facilities. Sam changed the rear tube on the Gunnar, which had mysteriously lost most of its air, and attended the crew briefing while I tried to keep busy doing nothing (other than agonizing whether to wear or not to wear this or that piece of clothing, to bring two or three spare tubes, how many of my gel packs should be caffeinated versus not . . .).  We chatted with the occasional old-timer and spied for extraordinary bikes or bicyclists.  Our closest brush to what counts in ultracycling as fame was seeing Dave Haase of the first RAAM documentary.  As always happens in these events, the start came far too quickly for my liking.

Four-time RAAM finisher Dave Haasse.  Not skimping on the gear, either.
The vibe surrounding the starting area of any ultra event is impossibly superior to that of a normal running or triathlon race.  Perhaps among the top competitors, who know each other, there is some posturing and behind-the-back talk; for everybody else, it is a gathering of hippies and seekers and friends looking forward to a day together in the saddle.  

What bagpipes have to do with ultra-cycling, I have no idea.
There are no start-line nerves, little if any jockeying to toe the line first; families and crews mingle with the riders and no barriers hold anybody back.

The guy behind me later explained that his arse was comfortably numb.
The RD called the start at 8 am and we rolled as a group down the 1/2 mile back road leaving the school parking lot.

The start.
Police waved us through stop signs and lights for the first 10 miles and the pack divided up quickly into a small lead group with maybe three or four riders; a large chase pack with as many as 50; and everybody else, whom I did not see again until we retired to the shorter loops in the afternoon.  I was quickly scolded for riding in my aero bars by one of the many riders in matching underoos who clearly follow the cycling strategy that goes "don't pedal if somebody else will do it for you."  After finally breaking from the peloton 15 miles in, I rode my own pace until maybe mile 90, when I shared a few pulls with a small group before losing them as well.

The National 24-Hour Challenge is -- to my surprise -- a full-on draft-legal event from start to finish.  I showed up planning to test my own solo limits.  Most riders seem to have showed up planning to start working hard once the sun set and riding in a pack became unsafe or infeasible!  This had at least one amusing consequence:  my bike selection was the opposite of others'.  I rode a time-trial frame (with drop bars and clip-ons) during the day until I could not stand it any longer, then moved to the Gunnar, an upright road frame, for the long late hours.  Others rode road bikes until dark and then moved to time trial bikes for the night-time.  Another consequence, less amusing:  anybody riding hard could be assured of a wheel-sucker latching on before too much time passed.

Wheel suckers.  Nice guys, though.
We started off with great weather and rode hard to maximize the miles before it got hot, or it started to rain, or it turned windy, or gravity reversed itself.  Sam hit the checkpoints and had food and drink prepared to perfection -- a casual but realistic guess as to my total non-riding time in the first 117 miles is less than three minutes.  A lack of down time keeps the momentum up for the riding.  (Showing the importance of a good crew chief, one rider with whom I swapped leads over many miles consistently fell behind at check-points, working hard to catch me just in time to fall behind again at the next one.)  Our seamless checkpoints, the superlative weather, an aggressive riding posture on the trusty P2SL, and my reintroduction to caffeine, from which I had weaned myself in the preceding weeks, contributed to personal bests at the 100-mile distance and the 180K distance, on the way to 20 minutes faster than planned for the 117.6-mile long first loop.  After sitting for a few minutes and eating not nearly enough, I started my first day loop at 1:50 pm, 5:50 into the 24-hour clock -- still well ahead of plan.

Entering first checkpoint, mile 30.5, at 1:23 down.  Perhaps a tad quick, but it felt good at the time.
Long loop
Short loops
The National 24-Hour Challenge course is comprised of three loops.  The first is 117.6 miles winding in an approximate square to the east, then south, then west, and then back north to the start/finish/race HQ/loop turn-around point.  It has checkpoints at miles 30, 67, and 92, with the fourth check-point at the loop's end. Riders are required to complete that loop before starting the second, medium-sized loop (denominated the "day loop"), a 23.7 mile ride south, west, and back north with one check-point mid-way.  After at least one completion of the day loop, but not before 7:15 p.m., riders may begin the short "night loop", 7.5 miles in a rectangle from the same start/finish/turn-around point.  After the long loop, crews remain at the race headquarters and offer support only at the turns.  Strategizing the rider's choice of loops ends up being important if going for a particular distance.  In the final tally I rode 1 long, 4 day, and 13 night loops for a total of 309.9 miles.  With 13 more night loops I would have hit 407.4 total, the minimum I would need to break 400 miles.  But had I ridden 5 day loops, 22 night loops would have brought me to 401.1 miles, reaching that elusive goal a good 20 minutes faster.

I was feeling beat when I left race HQ for the day loop.  One of the small group I had joined briefly toward the end of the long loop left with me and we chatted for a few minutes until I noticed he hadn't answered my last question.  I looked back and saw he had flatted, but this was not a randonneur ride, so I pedaled on without him.  My first trip on the day loop was comfortable and even strong, so I rolled immediately into a second go.  Trip number two was much less pleasant.  At the end I lay in the cool grass of the middle-school lawn while Sam located a baked potato somewhere.  After maybe 20 minutes off the bike I set out for loop three, once again finishing on a strong note, and set out immediately for number four.  I learned half-way through that I was out of gel in my jersey pocket and stumbled in to HQ at mile 212.4 at 7:30, 11:30 into the ride, feeling bonked.  The lap finish times Sam compiled suggest I was off my bike at this point for a full hour, which definitively put an end to any real 400-mile aspirations.

Now things really slowed down.  I did not attempt the fifth day loop, which was possible but threatened substantial lost time if I failed to return before the loop closed at 9 pm.  (My day-loop times ranged between 1:15 for the first and 1:21 for the fourth.  I finished that miserable fourth loop with 1:33 remaining before 9 pm.  Even with five minutes down to eat gel or to slug coffee, barring a flat, a fifth loop before 9 pm should have been an easy spin.)  Instead, Sam outfitted the Gunnar and I managed two night loops before another rest; two more, then a rest; and one last before calling it a day at 11:20 pm, at that point 250 miles down.  (Silver lining?  A big PB for the 400K distance, although not exactly on a regulation 400K.)

Nutrition became a problem sometime during the day loops.  The most likely time is at the end of the first loop, when I should have refueled substantially rather than relying on a Honey Stinger Waffle and similar fast-digesting foods.  Gels and Heed during the loops, with nibbles at the potato in between, were insufficient to keep me moving.  The result was slower -- and fewer -- day loops than necessary and a bad place from which to launch into the predictably difficult night riding.

Rain moved into the area.  We tried to sleep in the car, which was a failure, before moving into a hallway in the middle school.  Sleep was difficult with bright lights and loudly conversing neighbors.  At some time during the night the RD closed the course for thunderstorms.  I was relieved:  a real excuse to be doing nothing!  I kept hoping the organizers would call the race, but of course they would not.  The whole point of an ultra event is to compete on vectors beyond raw speed.  Stamina is key, to be sure, but the ability to handle adverse circumstances may be the single greatest factor in success in these events.

 I do not recall the time of the closure.  At some point the RD informed crew that a multiplier of 1.22 would adjust finishing distances for the period of course closure, which suggests it was more than 1/6 of the day -- thus, more than four hours.  That surprises me; my recollection was that the closure occurred at 2 a.m. -- but I was dumb from exertion and half asleep in any event.  The idea of a multiplier is obviously wrongheaded for another reason, which my example shows:  I was resting before the closure even began and would have continued resting even in its absence.  Even the strongest riders would not hold their pace for 24-hour non-stop.

Finally the announcement came:  the course was to be opened at 4:25 a.m., [X] hours after the closure. Not unlike 2:45 a.m. two weeks prior, I now felt ready, even jittery, wanting to get back on the bike.  A McDonalds from the next town up had supplied a banquet-sized coffee service and I scrounged three still-warm slices of cheese pizza from an unattended box.  There was a reason the pizza had not been eaten(!), but simple carbohydrates, salt, fat, and perhaps a modicum of protein, chased with hot coffee, put me in a hammering state of mind.  Sam headed off for breakfast sandwiches and I joined the group lined up at the re-start line.  The rest of the coffee went in a water bottle.

This event is not just well run, it is nicely run.  I overheard the RD talking to a volunteer, saying "nobody is giving me grief about the closure."  I joked, "I want to complain about the closure!"  The volunteer grabbed my elbow:  "you should complain.  Can I get you more coffee?" -- in all earnestness.  They (and it was a big "they," with dozens of volunteers working through the night) were worried about the riders, they were concerned simultaneously for our safety and the fulsomeness of our experience -- this race is a serious event for the contenders and an extraordinary experience for the rest of us.

The remaining 3:35 went remarkably quickly.  My back-of-the-envelope calculations suggested completing seven night loops was possible at the pedestrian pace of 30' per 7.5-mile loop.  Seven would turn my 249.9 miles into 302.4 -- not the 400 I thought I might target when I started riding at 8 am the prior day, but a nice round number that would eclipse my prior longest distance in a one-day period (approximately 268 at the Alaska 600K in 2012).  The road was wet from the rain and there was some hazard from sand across the road and downed leaves.  Several riders stopped with flats.  I rode on the crown of the roads as far from depressions in the pavement as possible.  Sam handed me a Subway flatbread breakfast sandwich (A+ -- remember that one!) and a bottle of diluted cola after three loops.  After two more I slugged most of a Starbucks Frappuccino.  I had checked the time after three loops -- 5:45, meaning 1:20 since the re-start -- and concluded if I reached the turn-around with more than 1:20 to go I would shoot for three more.

Going for three more.
Sure enough, the fifth loop of the morning ended at 6:37.  I finally crossed at 7:53 after eight times around that morning.  The last short loop was the fastest.

This is the end.  Beautiful friend . . .
We loaded the bikes, changed clothes, and ate Egg McMuffins provided by the same nearby McDonalds franchise.  Sam had been awake since 5:30 a.m. Saturday and I was wearing down for a different reason, so we started the four-hour drive home without waiting for the award ceremony.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

DC Randonneurs 600K

Last weekend I participated in the longest ride the Randonneurs offer that in the normal course does not boast a branded t-shirt or a water bottle.  This was my third 600K since 2009 and my first that was not put on by the Alaska Randonneurs.  (It was also probably my only true 600K.  The Alaska Randonneurs' loop comes in just a shade -- maybe 3 or 4 miles -- short.)

DC Rand Frederick 600K.  Day 1 in blue and Day 2 in pink.
Map, elevation profile, and data for the DC Randonneurs Frederick 600K.

We launched from Frederick at 4 am, which required my waking at 2 am and leaving home at 2:30 to make the start.  There was a good crowd with 23 starters.

The forecast called for heat and humidity.  Depending where you looked, temperatures were predicted into the low 90s.  I wore my silly-looking DeSoto leg coolers and a Skins brand long-sleeve compression shirt that also boasts cooling properties -- in fact, but for my neck and face, I was completely covered.  Thankfully, no cyclist looks good in his or her clothing, so I did not draw obvious snickers.

For reasons I never quite figured out, I was riding at the front of the group after the first 10th of a mile.  3 miles later there was one headlight with me.  By the outskirts of Frederick I recognized B__, with whom D__ and I had ridden nearly all of the 400K four weeks prior; nobody else was even in sight.  I deliberately pushed the pace because I kind of wanted to ride in the front, because I knew it would get hot later, and because RBA N__ had said at the start "If you make it to the first control before the store opens at 8 -- well, nobody will make it to the first control before 8."  (8:05.  But because the store opened a few minutes late, we half proved him wrong.)

B__ and I had a 10-minute lead at the first control (67 miles in).  I lost B__ on a hill after about 100 miles; he and the pack both caught me as I was finishing my lunch break at mile 120.  After that, except for an out-and-back stretch into Shepherdstown WV, that was the last I saw of any other riders until the next morning.

This route has two stretches of good hard climbing.  The first is before the mile 67 control.  The second is between miles 290 and 340 on day 2.  Most of the riding is over rolling hills through farmland where you are at the mercy of the sun and the wind.  The wind was not a non-issue, but it wasn't a problem either.  The sun was brutal.  It was 78 degrees at 4 when we started; downright hot at the first control at 8 am; and we were baking by mid-day.  I stopped for a snack at a Sheetz station a few miles short of Antietam, opened the freezer to grab a Snickers ice-cream bar -- and sat down in the freezer for a few minutes.  (But the way, that kind of worked.)

By the time I reached Shepherdstown WV at mile 160 I knew I would not be riding through the night without stopping.  I called P__ and she agreed to join me.  (Why I needed support for the overnight is not clear, although it gets dreadfully lonely riding hard for double-digit hours at a stretch.)

From Shepherdstown the route rather perversely re-crosses the Potomac into Maryland only to head back over the river for controls in Lovettsville and Purcelville.  Maybe it was the heat and maybe it is the population base in Civil War territory, but drivers became real jerks for a few hours there.  (Before I sound like I am complaining, it is better that this happens at 3 pm than at 3 am.)  The hills pick up again between Lovettsville and the final Potomac River crossing at Point of Rocks, Maryland.  After 200 miles I was definitely feeling every pedal stroke.

I've observed this phenomenon in every long ride I've done and I've heard it recounted many times by others, but I cannot internalize it.  The hard part of a ride is the last (X) miles before the end.  X is not quite a constant -- in a 200K, X is about 10 miles.  In a 400K X seems to run closer to 20 or 30 miles.  But a 400K does not get hard at mile 115, when the 200K does.  In a ride with an overnight, X occurs on each day.  Thus, last weekend's 600K became a death march at about mile 210, with the overnight at mile 228.  It happened again at mile 350, with the finish at mile 375.  I was tired in Lovettsville, but at the final first-day control Purcelville -- which, interestingly, has been a control or water-stop on all three rando rides I've done this spring -- the McDonalds cashier actually said "looks like it's been a long day."

10 more miles of hills in Virginia before re-crossing the Potomac back into Maryland.  Thankfully the cue sheet follows the easy route from Point of Rocks to Frederick.  I like a cue sheet that says "X Mountville Rd."  I rolled into the Frederick Days Inn at 8:45 pm, a pace that contends with my personal best for a 400K.  Displaying the uneasy tension between touring and racing, both RBA N__ and tireless volunteer M__ congratulated me on being the first one in, while I did my best not to show that I was pretty psyched by the fact.

P__ checked us into our room, I stashed the bike in the car, I took a much needed shower, and I set a 2 am alarm before hitting the sack at 9:30. 12:15 am came quickly.  2 took a while.  I should have gotten up when my internal clock said so rather than waiting for the iPhone.

Breakfast:  two bowls of chili with lots of sour cream.  One bowl of chicken soup with rice.  A handful of dough-nuts.  A cup of coffee with another cup in the water bottle.  Whatever else I could cram down my gullet.  Water and Gatorade in the other two bottles as I departed.  While waiting for the Garmin to charge I chatted with M__, who told me three riders had ridden through but were looking pretty spent.  To punctuate that remark, three more riders arrived at the overnight as I was preparing to leave.  To their credit, they looked quite chipper, and after nearly 23 hours on the road had stomachs for bowls of chili before going down for what was going to be a short sleep.  (The results suggest they did not finish the ride -- quite defensible given the storms that hit the area late in the day on Sunday.)

I left the overnight 15 minutes before the pack from yesterday, timed deliberately to ride alone at night and to save time at the controls.  On this second trip through downtown Frederick I was truly riding by myself, although at 2:45 there were still drunks walking the streets.  A few miles into the country it was just me, a fat crescent moon, the big dipper to my left (west, maybe?), and some rustling in the bushes.  My lighting problems seem to be solved (see gear, below) and I was well able to see imperfections and hazards in the road, to read the cue sheet, and to identify streets by their signs.  I was alert and comfortable on the bike.  The last time I enjoyed cycling this much . . . was the first three hours riding on day 2 of the Alaska 600K in June 2012 ("A Pocket Adventure," American Randonneur, Winter 2012).  I may be discerning a pattern!

Somewhere up the road the route re-entered Pennsylvania.  I reached the first control of the second day just before 6 am. By now fully in the "anything fatty and salty looks good mode," I ordered the breakfast sandwich with an extra egg and extra bacon, disappointed to be stuck with a muffin instead of a croissant.  Add in a chocolate milk, a large Starbucks frappuccino (coffee flavored and sweetened with Maltodextrin), and water for the bottles, and once again I was saddling up just as the pack pulled in.  The pack had lost three members (the ride-through trio) and gained one (B__, my companion from the first 100 miles).  To a one they looked strong and comfortable.

Day 2, Part 2 gets hilly once again, winding for ~15 miles through the Pigeon Hills (named, I was told, for a now extinct population of carrier pigeons).  Pigeon Hill climbs, like life, are "nasty, brutish, and [mercifully] short."  Here I had my one truly annoying routing problem which came from turning the cue sheet too early.  It only caused a couple of miles of extra riding, but at 300 miles in -- in particular when I was still in unannounced quasi-competition with the pack -- those extra miles took on new meaning.  The second control came quickly, and once again I pulled out as the group pulled in.

The hills continued for the next 40 miles, and although no one hill was difficult, by now climbing meant standing in a granny gear almost no matter what the grade.  (In fact, I noted that my chain ring of choice changed from 50 teeth on day 1 to 34 teeth on day 2.  The power required to maintain a good cadence in 50-anything was hard to come by.)  It was hard work to hold any kind of pace toward the end of this ride.

The last 63 miles required a full 5 hours, including a short nap at the Citgo station with 25 miles to go.  (I left that station as the pack . . . .  You guessed it.)  The DC Randonneurs have this thing with parading riders through downtown Frederick, which is lots of fun at the beginning of a ride at 4 am but is just annoying riding solo at the very end.  Who needs 10 stoplights to close out 375 miles?  I made it back to the Days Inn at 1:51 pm, 33:51 from the start, 1:01 after the through-the-night group, and :29 before the large pack behind me.

Pizza, a little chatting, and heading home to watch the terrible Will Smith movie "After Earth."  (Do not go see that.)  Three days later I am still in recovery mode.


No single rando ride can give any but the most general of lessons for other rides because the variables overwhelm the constants.  The constants: 600K takes longer to ride than does 400K.  Riding in the heat is harder than is riding in cool temperatures.  Headwinds suck.  So do hills.

A.  I did all but the first 90 miles of this ride solo (and for the entire first 90 I was pulling).  Partly that's my personality, partly it just happened that way, partly I got a little competitive and wanted to stay ahead of the large pack that was shadowing me, and partly I knew that I was moving through controls quickly while the pack was necessarily taking a long time.  Being able to ride my own pace and not waste time when I wanted to move -- and to waste time when I needed to do so -- was helpful.  One could debate whether those benefits overcome the benefits of pack cycling.  I vote that they do.  Solo riding is not essential. On other rides (200K permanent 2007; Alaska 600K 2009; 300K permanent 2011) my companion has been the difference between my finishing (surviving?) and not.  But unthinking adherence to a pack ethic is more drag than boost.

B.  I had planned to skip the overnight and ride into the night with a tentative goal of finishing under 30 hours.  That plan went out the window about 150 miles in after 90 miles of baking in 90+-degree heat with no shade.  Instead, I arrived at the overnight control (mile 228) in a fairly respectable 16:45 (faster, in any event, than my personal best 400K pace), slept fitfully for 4 1/2 hours, and launched again at 2:45 am.  Three riders from the pack that rolled in behind me, strong by reputation, pulled into the control at 9:30 pm (45 minutes after I had), slept for less than an hour, and rode into the night at 11 pm.  Not unpredictably, despite their starting nearly 3:45 before me, they finished just an hour ahead.  Which is the better approach?
1.  Here is one place where variables overwhelm constants.  Saturday was a brutal day.  Most of the ride was through exposed farmland.  I doubt it would have been helpful to ride more slowly, because it was the sun, not the exertion, that took its toll.  On this ride skipping the overnight seems not to have worked.  On a cooler or otherwise easier 600K it might work.  
2.  There is a happy medium.  I was alert at 12:15 am and could easily have been riding by 1.  Had I done so, I very likely would have caught, and passed, the overnight group.  Future:  set the alarm as a backup, but get up and go when I wake up.
3.  The general principle?  Rest is key, but time spent not sleeping (or getting your stomach back) is probably better spent on the bike.

C.  Corollary to B, above: I reserved a room in Frederick instead of something less pleasant like crawling into the back of my car for a few hours.  Taking a shower and lying on a bed makes me feel human.  It also saps much resolve to keep hammering away.  Is it smart to reserve "just in case"?  It just depends.  A worst-case-scenario backup plan makes sense.  A backup plan that threatens to be unduly tempting may not.  

D.  All day 1 I rode way off the front.  Too hard?  Pace oneself?
1.  I say no.  I can pace a marathon.  I can even pace an ironman.  I can't pace a 30+ hour event.  Push when you feel good and relax when you don't.
2.  I was tempted to quit this ride at the overnight.  Other (more experienced) randonneurs did.  I might well have if I hadn't made a statement by riding way up front.  It would have been way too shaming not to ride day 2.

E.  Eating gel:  it works.  Do it.  Even when you twitch just thinking about it.  In particular on the second day, I ceased using Accelerade and ceased taking gel.  I ate enough at controls to get me through, but I was slogging.  When I finally forced myself to consume a gel pack -- voila.  I was riding again.  That said, I want to invent a gel with no sweetness to it.  I will carry enough for one day in a squeeze bottle.  Suggestions welcome.  My recipe will probably start with an entire shaker-full of salt.  The next ingredient may be ground-up beef jerky.

Gear and Loading

The Gunnar, fully loaded for a multi-day ride.
A few notes about gear.  The Gunnar once again performed almost perfectly.  I changed to a larger cassette last weekend (11-28 rather than 12-25) and after a Memorial Day check-out century ride resolved minor shifting problems. Two glitches:  First, I have a constant rubbing in the big ring, while riding in the small ring is near silent.  I assume my front derailleur is positioned just a tad too low.  Second, the shifting went a little sour in the larger cogs after about 300 miles.  I assume I can correct that with a few twists of the barrel adjuster.

My new WTB Rocket V SLT saddle (currently $100 at Jenson unless I bought the last 10) was simply phenomenal.  Nothing can prevent saddle discomfort after riding maybe 24 hours in a 34-hour stretch.  This was as close as one could hope.  I have it mounted with the nose pitched just slightly higher than past practice.  The result is a much easier upright seating posture with much less weight on my wrists.

I switched back to my White Mountain Wheels custom build wheelset with 26c Grand Bois tires and  latex tubes.  The wheelset is lighter than the Hed Belgiums (with a Powertap) from Neuvation; it has 32 spokes rear (carry the spares on your wheel); and it looks really good.  The 26c tires clear the brakes better on the Gunnar than did the 28s.  I used slime in the latex tubes.  The ride was smooth; I believe it was efficient; and it was flat-free.  No reason ever to change wheels again.

I rode with one DiNotte 200L lamp and one Serfas 500L lamp, carrying a spare battery (or battery pack) for each.  Even at the darkest hour, the Serfas on its 150 lumen setting and the DiNotte on its medium (about 140 lumens), operating together, provide more than ample light.  From my perspective, I have three vectors of redundancy:  redundant lights, redundant batteries, and redundant technologies.  As if that isn't enough, I had a spare of each type of light in the drop-bag.  Each Serfas battery was plenty for the four hours of use each day.  On the DiNotte I used one set of Eneloop rechargeables for the entire ride, without recharging -- thus, perhaps 6 hours total on one battery pack without a hitch.  (I ran the Serfas later into the dawn hours than I did the DiNotte.)

I carried my Yuba battery pack for recharging either the Serfas or the Garmin.  It worked fine on the Garmin, although it was a little slow and I learned that recharging resets the Garmin's routing function.  Thus, one big recharge works well (and I should simply have recharged at night, but forgot), but a small recharge at each control is at best annoying and at worst infeasible.  (The recharging also resets the trip computer function, which is less annoying while riding but promises to be a real pain when I try to upload my data.)

I lightened the load after the check-out ride, carrying only (1) the Jandd frame pack, (2) the Revelate "Jerry Can" pack that sits atop the top tube directly in front of the seat-post (full of spare electronics), (3) a light tool kit with two tubes in the seat-bag, and (4) three water bottles.  It worked.  You can pack for anything, or you can pack for most things and decide that the extreme (more flats in a day than I have patches in my patch-kit?) are god's telling you something.  (One guy in the pack that was shadowing me rode an old aluminum Novara Strada.  His load:  a small seat bag; an extra tire strapped below that; and two water bottles.  That was it.  I don't see myself going that light, but I was envious!)

In the future I will carry less food in the frame pack.  I can't buy gel packs on the road, but everything else I can pick up on the way.  That will free up space for my bivy sack and some emergency warm clothing on the Big Wild Ride.

I wore a Skins long-sleeve compression shirt under my jersey on day 1.  I am unsure whether it worked from a temperature perspective (rather than a looser jersey with arm coolers), but I have some confidence that it mitigated the stress on my shoulders and back from long hours in the saddle. I will definitely be wearing it in Alaska.  The DeSoto leg coolers served their purpose, with a caveat: they have a remarkably effective silicone grip strip around the top.  After 200 miles they had abraded rings around my legs that are taking an annoyingly long time to heal.


A good, hard ride.  Nothing can replace back-to-back long days for purposes of preparation for a multi-day event.  Probably I should find an excuse to do another of these before Alaska in July.

Setting a goal, but adjusting it as you ride, seems to be the only way to handle this kind of long event.  Nothing is predictable after about 300 kilometers.

After plenty of experimentation with gear, I think I've found a packing strategy that works for me.  I'm interested to note that my load was very similar to what I carried on the 600K in Alaska last summer, and not deliberately.  Thus, two different courses of experimentation produced the same result.